The Killing Joke and Brought to Light

By Barry Kavanagh, 17 October 2000

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You then went and did Batman: the Killing Joke.

Yeah, it was done while I was doing Watchmen, or just after or something, I’m not sure which but it was too close to Watchmen. I mean, Brian [Bolland] did a wonderful job on the art but I don’t think it’s a very good book. It’s not saying anything very interesting.

Well, the main thing is the symbiosis between Batman and the Joker.
Was that there already in Batman comics or was it something you
kind of – ?

– Oh, I don’t know. I think that it was certainly that I made it
explicit for the first time.

And the Joker’s origin? Had he had one before that?

He’d got a kind of muddy kind of origin. They’d said that he’d been the leader of a criminal gang called the Red Hood Mob and that while trying to escape from Batman he’d swum across this river of chemicals.

And that was about it?

That was about it and this was from a story from, like, the late ’50s or something and so I thought “Okay, I won’t contradict that,” because I kind of believe in working by the rules of the material as it already exists but I can put a lot of spin on that.

You put a complete spin on that.

But at the end of the day, Watchmen was something to do with power, V for Vendetta was about fascism and anarchy, The Killing Joke was just about Batman and the Joker – and Batman and the Joker are not really symbols of anything that are real, in the real world, they’re just two comic book characters.

Then you did Brought to Light, which is very much

Yeah, that’s something that I’m very pleased with. That was a piece of

It’s very hard to get across all that history and so on.

Yeah, well, tell me about it, I’d got forty or fifty years of CIA
history to cover and I’d got thirty pages to do it in.

Are you still interested in that kind of stuff?

Um, well, you know, up to a point. It was quite a revelation when I actually researched it – well, no, it wasn’t a revelation entirely, having grown up in the ’60s I’d been exposed to more bizarre conspiracy theories than most but this wasn’t conspiracy theory, it was conspiracy fact. It was an artistic challenge putting it all together. I was very pleased with the final result. I heard a nice little story from a film director who’s actually making a film based upon the memoirs of a spook who was a part of most of the ventures that we talk about in Brought to Light, including all the Miami stuff, all the stuff in Vietnam in Operation Phoenix and all that sort of stuff, this guy was a veteran of those campaigns. The director of the film gave him a copy of Brought to Light and said “Here, see what you think of this,” and the guy came back in the next morning – as the director described it to me, this spook came in in a state of semi-shock. For one thing he was surprized by some of the things that we knew and had printed, little things like the Australian CIA bugging facility which no-one’s supposed to know about and the hand that it had in overthrowing Gough Whitlam’s Labour government. But the thing that he was most shaken by was the characterization of the Eagle. He just said “That’s us. That’s all of us guys. That’s us!”

Did you think that he was made to look evil or something?

No, I think that he was shaken because it was true.

Because you had the personality of it?

Well, the thing is that these guys are sort of defiant about what they believe and then they end up killing themselves, so many of them. They’re so defiant that what they’re doing is right for the world; is the only realistic way of proceeding politically; and then they [kill themselves] so they must have felt pretty fucking good about themselves all the while, mustn’t they? And you know, they’re real, they get cancers. Alright, I know lots of people get cancers but there’s a certain sort of spook, people who’ve done rotten fucking things for their living, they’ve got a lot of demons and I think that Brought to Light was the most successful satire that I’ve ever done. Satire in the old sense, satire in the sense of doing a grotesque and unflattering portrait of somebody that is nevertheless true, that even they can’t disagree with it.

It must have been great when you heard that.

It certainly was.

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